London: India thrashed Pakistan by 124 runs when the Asian giants squared off in their tournament opener in Birmingham. It is a well-known fact that India often gets the better off Pakistan in ICC tournaments, but the 124-run defeat was a massive blow. The Pakistan players were demolished and hurt. Everyone, even their own fans, had written them off. Little did they know that in a fortnight’s time they would be meeting India in the final and the script would unfold in complete contrast to their meeting in the group game.
Fighting all odds and logic, not only did Pakistan beat India, but Sarfraz Ahmed and his men thrashed them by 180 runs — Pakistan’s biggest ever victory margin against the arch-rivals. Pakistan were hopeless at the start of the tournament and actually played like a number eight ranked team, their position in ICC rankings when they came in the tournament.
But all that took a backseat in the final at the Oval. Pakistan’s batting, often considered fragile, stood the litmus test and managed to post 338 for four with the help of a fabulous century by Fakhar Zaman who amassed 114 off 106 balls. Zaman, who is a Mardan born and averages over 50 in 50-over cricket, finished the tournament as the highest run-getter for Pakistan after making most of his luck when he edged one off Jasprit Bumrah only to see that the bowler had overstepped.
Pakistan had gone 35 ODIs without a century stand before the semi-finals but Fakhar in partnership with Azhar Ali stitched back to back 100-run opening stands. Pakistan’s comeback in the tournament was largely due to Fakhar’s effort at the top. It is remarkable that the left-hand opening batsman now has two 50s and a hundred in first four ODIs.
India captain Virat Kohli in the press conference admitted that their plans didn’t work against Fakhar even though the batsman was playing high-risk shots. Pakistan cricket is often termed mercurial however their four back to back wins have proved that they can be consistent performers too. A nation that was written off before the start of the tournament managed to win hearts with the spirit of the youth.
Hasan Ali, the player of the tournament, took thirteen wickets which is joint-most with West Indies' Jerome Taylor in one edition of the ICC Champions Trophy. “I dedicate this victory to my mother who always fasts whenever I am playing," said Hasan after the victory. He demonstrated an intelligent cricketing mind by using his pace variations and took regular wickets in the middle overs against South Africa, Sri Lanka, England and India.
Pakistan is often criticised for the lack of structure, but has always been a team of momentum. If history is anything to go by, their wins in tournaments have come at the back of peaking at the right time. But what did Pakistan really do right to trigger this turn around? They brought Junaid Khan back at the expense of Wahab Riaz who had a poor year going at an economy rate of nine runs per over consistently and was unable to use pace to his advantage.
Junaid got eight wickets in the tournament and proved to be a great new ball user along with Mohammad Amir. He also played a vital role in the middle over by giving breakthroughs and containing runs. Ahmed Shehzad, who is looking a completely different batsman from what he was four years ago, was replaced by Zaman.
Zaman was streaky in the beginning against India with a lot of top edges but overcame his troubles to play a brave knock. He became the first Pakistan batsman to score 100 in the final of an ICC event. The left-handed was previously part of the Pakistan Navy. He has taken a liking to left arm spinners and demonstrated his command over them when he smashed Ravindera Jadeja to all parts of the ground.
Mohammad Amir who missed the semi-final due to back spasm proved why he is considered as Pakistan’s premier fast bowler as he set the match up by trapping Rohit Sharma leg before wicket in the very first over of the innings. It was the ideal in-swinger bringing Rohit forward to set the tone of the match.
Kohli managed a lucky escape as he was dropped by Azhar Ali at first slip before slicing one to the point. Amir demonstrated his skills further and had Shikhar Dhawan caught behind and with that demolished the top three men in form for India. Coach Mickey Arthur was extremely proud of the effort of the team. “The whole group kept believing. We always knew we were better than what we showed in the first game,” he said.
He also termed the first loss an aberration. With the three newcomers in the side — Fahim Ashraf, Rumman Raees and Zaman — Pakistan managed to put up a stellar performance in the tournament. The Pakistan Super League has unearthed new talent and given the players immense self-belief and this win in the final of the Champions Trophy against India might just be what the doctor ordered to break the team's jinx against India in big tournaments.